Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Bodice Ripping Bounty Hunters And Better Living Through Beer

I didn’t write much this vacation. I had these lofty ideas about writing everyday, cycling every morning, reading…blah blah ginger blah. So what did I do? I watched telenovelas, stared at the ocean, played with my camera and drank beer. It’s amazing I didn’t gain any weight because I was on the “Gain At Least Five Pounds Vacation Diet” in Mexico. The Girl pointed out to me we did do a lot of walking. Yeah, to the Mercado del Cerveza about a half mile away from the casita. And we walked or cycled about a mile for the fabulous deep fried shrimp tacos and beer we had almost everyday for dinner or lunch (or both because they lace those tacos with crack). And when I wasn’t drinking beer I was chugging back Mexican Coca Cola. Good thing a serving has about ten fewer calories. I firmly believe vacation should be about suspending one’s present reality. I mean really, I can’t even imagine going to some sort of spa where you eat toy food and only drink water and exercise all day. That sounds like some sort of Hell to me and I think I would rather spend a week working at the hospital or trying to motivate Wally and The Beav to clean their rooms and their bathroom.

I did read. But I’m a big old book snob and I don’t read. Just. Anything. My usual vacation read is something akin to Byatt, Hoffman or Seth. My snobbishness has resulted in a couple of epic fails as far as lighthearted vacation reading goes. Can you say Atonement? There’s a feel good happy beach read. The other beach read fail was a Russo novel. I can’t even remember which novel but it was about a desperate situation in a dying industrial town in upstate New York. In fact, The Girl almost committed an epic fail when she picked up Hardy’s Jude The Obscure. I handed her a stick for her eye and said, “Dude, one word: “Atonement’.“ I didn’t tell her about the summer I read Tess of the D’Urbervilles and was so insufferably sad and depressed my roommate Jack hid the book from me. But I digress…Because of these two epic fails, coupled with my OCD I spend about six months selecting just the right books for Mexico. They must be uplifting, well written, imaginative and NOT in the top one hundred. It’s a careful process to say the least and one best beaten to death with the google stick. In an effort to live more deliberately I didn’t bother with that this year so I would make use of the lovely bookstore where we call home for two weeks a year. I did take two “emergency” books. I’m a veracious reader and usually burn through ten books in two weeks, so taking two books was akin to taking only three pairs of shoes. (Which I also did much to my chagrin and deprivation) This vacation was no exception, I did read ten books. I started with The Mercy Of Thin Air. A ghost story that required some thought and careful reading. Next up was Sweetness At The Bottom Of The Pie a delightful mystery that required some thought but not as thinky as the first novel.

And then I lost my mind and my bearings and started reading Amanda Quick. I confess one of my guilty pleasures is fantasy novel meets Steam Punk. The Little Book is one of my all time favorite novels and The Blue Glass Books of the Dream Eaters complete brain candy last year in Mexico. So this Arcane Society thing was close to these. When I was about fourteen I read stacks of Regency romance novels and Barbara Cartland novels. So Quick’s novels and this sort of romance subgenre was new to me. They were surprisingly good and terribly entertaining. Fun like eating cookies and drinking Coca cola too quickly and ending up belching with a flourish is fun and vaguely satisfying. I read three of them and then found myself on menacing brow and quivering breath overload. I knew I had had enough when I predicted which chapter our heroine was going to be kidnapped. But this experimenting thing was fun. What other genre could I test? True Crime? Nah, too depressing. Espionage? Nah too…I dunno…male. Shopping/Dating/Twenty-something? Nah that would just piss me off that I hadn’t written them.

In other words, how much further down was this spiral into pulp fiction taking me? Evanovich that’s where. I followed the exploits of the plucky Stacy Plum for three novels until I was tired of hearing about her spandex shorts and her wisecracking grandma. I must admit each one of the novels had an amusing and imaginative cast of supporting characters that kept me interested. And I openly guffawed many times over a few days. But I must say had we stayed in Mexico much longer I was spiraling towards Cartland romances and Mexican tabloids.

This vacation turned into an exercise of escape. I have become so unbelievably frustrated with myself and how I’m living my life recently that I must have been trying to lose myself in fluffy fiction. Fortunately, I didn‘t try to lose myself in alcohol--I didn‘t drink that much--because I finally learned a few years ago you can‘t escape yourself so I‘ve stopped doing that and just put the old tapes and guilt trips on pause for a week or so. But for a couple of weeks I got to see what being a beautiful young woman just past marriagablilty; living in genteel poverty in Victorian England was like. And when I tired of that I discovered what the life an Italian/Hungarian bounty hunter in Trenton, New Jersey looked like. And isn’t that what reading--on vacation--is about? Escape?

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Sunset Over the Mangrove

February 17th:

The first thing I saw this morning when I awakened was one of the dippers. I think it was the big dipper, but I’m not sure. Anyhow, it was amazing to awaken in the dark, thinking minutes between falling asleep and awakening had passed to discover per my handy indiglo watch I had slept soundly for seven hours. It was five am on our departure day in Mexico. The morning was dark with a clear sky and the Big Dipper was inviting me to ladle stars. For the first time in many days there wasn’t any wind or clouds or rain in the early morning. Awakening to a constellation just outside my window was one of the most delicious gifts I’ve been given these last two weeks. The good news/bad news of the day. We hadn’t enjoyed the most stellar weather in Mexico this year but at least we weren’t buried under 30 inches of snow like the east coast or bracing ourselves for sub zero temperatures. We had rain almost every day we were here and while my skin isn’t as burnished as some years, the gardens, mangrove and jungle around us appear quenched and lush. The other night we took the collectivo (local bus) to the Colonia for dinner. We passed through the mangrove and the sun was setting. I had never seen a sun set over the mangrove. The sun cast an orange and red glow on the marsh’s surface the trees were black spots along the shoreline. As we drove along the road through the mangrove, I remembered our caretaker’s description of the officials from Cancun trying to convince the local PTB the mangrove was “dead” and therefore the only thing left to do was fill it in and build a big resort. How proud he was to tell us the townspeople brought their own biologists in to ascertain what they all knew was true: nothing was wrong with the mangrove, it was simply dry and suffering from drought. The people did not want to sacrifice their way of life for a chance at greater economic opportunity. Fancy that. Feeling as if you have enough.

A few days ago, we took a tour away from the coast and into the interior. Twenty-five kilometers later and it’s as if the huge Mega resort and Disco Bongo Bongo cease to exist. The villages are small and simple. Some would call them “ramshackle” “mean” “pathetic” or “dirty”. If you peek inside of the cinderblock houses they usually appear empty because the hammocks are tucked up and out of site: the structures are used for sleeping and work takes place outside in the light. These villages aren’t old colonial villages and towns with most were founded well after the 1910 revolution. The Mexican government has started listening to the indigenous people and have protected some of the land in the this part of the country. They have also entrusted the care of the land to the people. To say they live simply is an understatement. Their day to day living makes the average middle class American camping trip look like a four star hotel experience. Dirt floors, dark windowless palapas, hammocks. I’m not sure if they had running water or not but pumping water from the ground isn’t difficult when the water table is close to the surface. At first glimpse most would call these people “dirty”. Their clothing was faded and only the man wore shoes. His wife does embroidery and sewing to sell while he helps the biologists observe the plants and animals in the reserve. Their children appeared well fed and happy. No one was whining about who’s turn it was on the x box. In fact no one was whining. A few years ago, I certainly would have referred to them as dirty or backward or ignorant out of my own ignorance. But fortunately, I have moved out of my pampered existence and realize it’s all about what’s in your head not outside of your head. Our day trip included a traditional Mayan lunch with a family near a village and it was perhaps one of the best meals I had this vacation all without the benefit of a Viking stove or Henk`l knives or electricity. An Anthony Bourdain moment. Tony would have loved this meal: chicken seasoned with the achiote seed ground into a paste and flavored with orange juice along with traditional rice, beans and tortillas. The smallest children were home with the women and dressed in their best traditional dresses. They were friendly and quiet experts at making their own fun. The little girls had created a mortar and pestle and were grinding a leaf, mimicking their mother and grandmother’s way. The little boy was running about and would come back to them for a few seconds and then run away again. I wish I knew what they were saying to one another as they were chattering with one another the whole time. (Someday I’m going to speak Spanish well enough to eavesdrop on small children at play and the cab drivers.) Before we left their home, the little boy presented me with a small blossom and a shy good bye. It would seem I have a fan in Mexico.

More importantly than a romantic conquest, I learned a lesson. These people do not seem paralyzed by what they lack. Before Sunday, I would have referred to them as living in poverty. When truthfully they were not essentially impoverished. They appeared healthy and happy, just as happy as the people I saw strolling down the beach these past two weeks. (Probably happier than many) The same People who strolled to an airport after paying about 5000 pesos to sit on an airplane so they could spend another 20000 pesos for a hotel room with cement bed, a restaurant serving ridiculously terrible food and a bar with even crappier booze. An amount of money comparable to a CEO bonus. Please know I am not condescending to these people and cooing over them and gushing about how terribly sweet the natives are or bless their indigenous hearts in all their Indian simplicity. In fact, quite the opposite, I’m kicking myself in the ass for requiring so much to “live”. Nor am I naive enough to think many who live in the small villages don’t hanker for a fancy life elsewhere. Hell, we have a perceived problem at our border with folks who think it’s all that and a bag of chips in El Norte. It is human nature to want what someone else has, however some of us--me--get more carried away with this than others. So I need to remember the simple gifts, like awakening to the Big Dipper turned upside down showering stars all over the Eastern sky, a little boy giving me a small blossom, or the achioto red of a mangrove at dusk.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

My Doorway To The Sea

I suppose I could start my first vacation blog a la Keillor as if I’m telling a story about Lake Woebegone but that would be highly unoriginal. But it has been quiet here in PM, the winter people (ourselves included) are here and along with them a few new characters. This place isn’t as alive with characters as places further from North America. It’s obvious people do come here to get lost or hide. Last year we met one guy from Norway or Denmark or one of those cold sub arctic European countries who was living in a shack in the jungle and only had a rattly old bike for transport. What I remember most was how unbelievably dirty he was without having that all too familiar “homeless” smell my transient patients carry with them like a badge of courage. But this year, his clothes were clean and he had much needed dental work done. I knew better than to ask what he was doing with himself; in this part of the world it could be anything/everything and none of it I want to have a part of or even a whiff of knowing. Our favorite bar owner has actually lost a little weight but he carries the weight of the world on the sides of his eyes in the form of not one but two small children he has created with a much younger Mexican woman and with these two sprogs he has adopted her whole family. Yesterday at the dock I saw a guy who looked like a pirate. Seriously, not an AK 47 toting pirate but Jack Sparrow meets Rasta meets Deadhead Arrrrrrrr ye’ matey pirate. I didn’t have the telephoto with me yesterday otherwise his picture would grace my blog and probably my Facebook profile because really? Jack Sparrow meets Rasta meets Deadhead is so pointedly unusual everyone should take a lesson from him and display their internal and secret selves for the rest of the world to see.

The characters in this town are not limited to the two-legged creatures, either. The feral dogs range from mangy and mean (we try to carry a big stick when we walk at night) to dirty but sweet. Not only do I make up stories for the people I see around town, giving them back story and ironic dialogues but I anthropomorphize the beach dogs. We see Susie--a spotted short-haired mix of boxer and pit bull--hanging at the Uruguay place. She’s a sweet girl, scrappy but sweet and seems to get along with the other dogs. Susie is the Peggy Lee character form Lady and the Tramp. Across the street, Ramone de Guerre Fuentes holds court at the tourist hotel and bar. He is an elderly golden retriever with bad hips and swinging balls. He is the go-to dog if you need to know where the best trash is or the sweetest bitch in heat. Ramone has his old paw on the pulse of this town and isn't afraid to assert his authority with younger upstarts and the dogs who were lucky enough to leave "the life". The dogs who have been adopted and are tethered in yards or taken for proper walks have a sort of swagger about them because they have been adopted and moved from the street to the yard. Realistically, not an easy thing to do. A couple of years ago, we met a dog named Jet. His name was Jet because he had ears which extended straight out from his head. The people he adopted every year said they found him hanging by their gate a few years ago and each winter when they return Jet is there, waiting for them. But you couldn’t touch Jet or even act as if you were going to touch him without a low menacing growl. Poor Jet, it was obviously he adored these people because he would lay close to them and watch them with soft worshiping brown eyes but he was inherently broken by life in the street when his people were far away and he had to find scraps of food and a cool place to stay.

Last year, a couple of days before we had to leave our home away from home a little German Shepard mix wandered into the pool area of our casita. He was collared with a message on his tag, about being a peaceful creature, so I referred to him as “The Wayne Dyer of beach dogs” and it was shortened and stuck. I promise on my mother’s urn we did not feed or provide water for Wayne. But Wayne attached himself to The Girl and followed us around for our last two or three days. People would compliment us on our “cute dog”. I thought about Wayne all year and shortly after we arrived I proclaimed to The Girl: “If we see Wayne, I’m bringing him home with us.” This idea was appropriately nixed because as TG put it: “Dude, we already have a thousand dollar dog, we don’t need another one.” She also went on to tell me the chances of seeing Wayne were slim.

Or were they.

Wayne greeted us at our place on the beach he came up to TG like Kipper does after she’s been at work. It was unbelievably sweet and so miraculous it made me cry. Our beach dog is here and has been taken care of by some old hippies who named him Jack. Call me selfish but he looks more like a Wayne. I was relieved to see he has been well fed and is just as sweet and gentle as before. I still think he would make a fine addition to our household. However, I think Wayne would miss the sea and the ability to run free along the water.

Twenty mumblty years ago I lived in a ski town. The characters in a beach town are different from the characters in a ski town. Mind you, it was a manufactured ski town but it was a resort and there was a motley crew of Trustaferians, Hanger-ons, Euro trash playboys and girls and then folks like us just eking out an existence. Oh and there were white people with names like Spenser and Molly who made it possible for us to eek out a living. Spenser and Molly are here, too but they usually just stay near their Timeshare beaches and tentatively stop in and take a peek at the “Cute little town but it’s too Mexican” (I kid you not, I heard someone say this a few years ago) Anyhow, the characters in the World Class Resort weren’t as “colorful” as they characters in the Beach Town. Probably because the I’m much older now and pay attention to people besides myself and have the ability to “see” the characters and celebrate their unique approach to the world rather get bitched up because they aren’t just like me.

I’m not completely free of my Redneck roots because I think the local locals--the actual Mexicans who have lived here their whole lives--are colorful, too. On the corner of the square, is the cab stand and the cab drivers come in all shapes and sizes and span the gamut of ages from 20ish to 50ish. They sit on the benches and gossip with each other all day, too. I would love to know what they talk about because they have probably seen it all, driving people to and from the airport, the markets and the larger towns to the north and south of our fishing village. My guess is if you live in PM you have to be very secretive if you are doing something or someone you aren’t supposed to be doing. Charming to an outsider but ultimately it can become repressive and suffocating if you live it. My favorite local character is a tiny elderly Mayan man who sits in a chair near the pier. Years before he would scavenge the beach but I think one of the local dive shop owners took pity on him and gave him a job selling scuba trips. Yesterday me and TG took the bikes to the dock to purchase the fresh catch of the day and as we approached the dock, “Charlie Brown” (his name for himself) said to us with a broad sweep of his hand: “Welcome to my Doorway to the Sea!”